Friday, August 19, 2022

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On tonight’s Burlington city council agenda: a 6-percent raise for all staff outside police department

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Follows January raises for police officers and dispatchers

Burlington’s municipal leaders are poised to extend a 6-percent pay raise to most of the city’s full-time employees today – to take effect on April 1 of this year.

Burlington’s city council is scheduled to approve these salary increases during a regularly-scheduled meeting tonight, as a sequel to an even more generous package of pay raises that its members conferred on the city’s police force earlier this year. The 6-percent raise, which would apply to 461 employees who didn’t benefit from the police department’s increases, is set to appear on a so-called “consent agenda” of presumably routine items that the council generally accepts en bloc without any discussion.

The council had originally hinted at such a wholesale spike in compensation for the city’s staff members when it approved the police department’s raises during the first week of January. At the time, the council agreed to shell out an extra $7,271 a year for each of the city’s 121 sworn police officers and $7,904 to the police department’s 18 dispatchers in order to stem a tide of turnover that had depleted the police force’s ranks. The council nevertheless conceded, even then, that staff-level defections had also affected other areas of Burlington’s workforce.

The council revisited its plans to extend the bounty to the rest of the city’s municipal staff during a regularly-scheduled work session on Monday. During this confab, the council discussed proposals ranging from merit-based pay hikes in the city’s next annual budget to pre-budget increases for particularly high-turnover positions like administrative assistants and members of the city’s water resources staff.

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Peggy Reece, the city’s finance director, also presented the council with three options for pay raises of 4, 5, 6 percent that she said the council could implement as part of the budget, or sooner, for everyone who missed out on the council’s largesse toward the police department. Reece told the council that the cost of these raises would range from $850,000 to $1.3 million – which, in the latter case, is roughly the same as the annual cost of the police force’s pay increases.

Reece told the council that any of these proposed raises could staunch the flow of staff-level defections that she acknowledged have occurred across the spectrum of Burlington’s municipal staff.

“Everybody around us has done increases,” she added, “and we’re just trying to provide the good services that our employees have come to expect as well as trying to keep the good employees that we have.”

Reece’s assertions were largely born out by Jaime Joyner, the city’s personnel director, who admitted that the city had 67 vacancies – with two more on the way on account of a pair of employees who gave notice earlier that day.

Prior to Monday’s work session, the council had discussed a pre-budget pay raise that would be limited to the city’s administrative assistants and water resources staff. The council had even instructed staff to separate these two sets of employees from a salary study that’s slated to be incorporated into the city’s next budget in order to implement earlier increases for those turnover-depleted positions.

On Monday, however, the council reached a consensus to extend immediate raises to the entire staff outside the police force as well as the police department’s civilian staff members. The council rallied around this idea based on Reece’s assurances that the funds to cover the compensatory increases are already available in the city’s current annual budget.

The city’s finance director acknowledged that the city currently has more than $300,000 in the kitty thanks to lapsed salaries from vacancies outside the police department. Reece assured the council that this money would cover the $320,000 that a 6-percent pay raise is expected to cost in the final quarter of this fiscal year, which will end on June 30, 2022.

The council eventually endorsed the idea of a 6-percent pay raise after its members worked through their misgivings about this sort of compensatory measure. Council member Kathy Hykes, for one, shared her qualms about the cost that the city would incur “down the road” from such a large one-time increase in salaries. Meanwhile, Burlington’s mayor Jim Butler conceded that the proposed raises are more likely to have an impact on retention rather than the recruitment of new employees – as suggested by the 30 or so vacancies that the city’s police department currently has in spite of the pay raises approved in January.

Harold Owen, the city’s mayor pro tem, also made a pitch for the virtue of a 2-percent pay raise that has customarily appeared in most of the city’s annual budgets. In response, Butler insisted that council could still include such a merit-based raise in its next spending plan – provided that the funds to do so are available. He nevertheless argued that a 6-percent raise in April would be far more effective as a retention measure.

“Maybe we could still come back and do a merit[-based raise],” he added. “But we’re solving the problem now with a pretty big statement. That would be my preference to take the 6 percent.”

In the end, the council agreed to implement a 6-perccent raise on April 1 for all full-time staff members not covered by the police department’s previous raises. At Reece’s behest, they also accepted a 3-percent increase in the city’s pay grades – a move that would have no impact on current staff members but would boost the entry-level salaries of future recruits.

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